Sorry for the abysmally late posting, but I’ve had a spate of manically busy week(end)s so not much time to write. However, part of the busy-ness has been some very wonderful library trips, which I shall talk about now. These three were particularly exciting for me because they involved costumes (or, at least, clothes that are old enough to be interesting). Those of you who know me will be aware that whenever I watch a historical drama, or a fantasy film, a big draw for me is the costumes. My reaction is much like Lottie’s at the beginning of ‘The Princess and the Frog’ where, despite just having had a dress made for her, she sees a picture in a fairytale book and goes “Oooh, I want that dress!”. Modern/real clothes don’t inspire nearly the same awe – I’m sorry, but though they may be infinitely more practical, jeans and T-shirts are nowhere near as beautiful as flowing dresses and tunics and girdles etc.
So, on to the visits!
Library of the Society of Friends
In February, I was very privileged to have a tour of the Library of the Society of Friends, which forms part of Friends House and is one of the largest Quaker collections in the world. It has over 80,000 books and pamphlets, as well as an archive of Quaker meetings, organisations, paintings, clothes, and papers from notable Friends like Elizabeth Fry. My guides to this fascinating collection were Tabitha Driver and Lisa McQuillan, who not only took me for a lovely cup of tea in the cafe first but also shared a lot of wisdom about the challenges facing libraries/archives, and an immense wealth of knowledge about Quakers.
The moment I stepped into the Reading Room I just wanted to sit down and start researching (my knowledge of the Quaker movement being woefully limited). It is a beautifully quiet, intimate room – complete with a mezzanine accessed by a tucked-away staircase! – and I learnt ever such a lot from Tabitha as she talked me through the different topics that the books covered (the most interesting bit for me being about the Quakers’ separate educational system).
Then it was down to the basement, where the gurgling system of pipes terrified me that it was going to flood at any moment and ruin all the beautiful collections. Most sobering were the ‘Collections of Sufferings’ – volume after volume of notes about persecutions suffered by the Quakers since their inception – but I was also able to see some beautiful tract books by William Sewell (a Dutch Quaker, 1653-1720) and the diaries of prison reformer Elizabeth Fry (incredibly exciting!!!)
Now, regarding the clothes I mentioned! Unfortunately I didn’t get to see them, because they were safely boxed up to protect them from the ravages of air and dust etc. but the library has items of clothing from various Quakers (some of which, when I visited, had just been sent of to be part of a museum exhibition!) as well as uniforms from organisations like the Friends’ Ambulance Unit, which was a voluntary service they ran during both world wars.
So all in all it was an immensely exciting morning, and I’m very grateful to Tabitha and Lisa for giving up the time to show me round. The library website is here, if anyone is interested in having a look, and they also have a Facebook page where they post lots of wonderful photographs about parts of their collection!
National Theatre Archive
March saw me jetting off on two very theatrical visits with my fellow trainees; the first to the National Theatre Archive, where Erin Lee first showed us round the collection and then took us across to the theatre itself so we could see the exhibitions there, where parts of the collection were being used. The archive has so many different sections that I’m bound to forget something – posters, recordings of productions staged at the National Theatre (apparently they are inundated with requests by Benedict Cumberbatch fans…), set designs, annotated scripts, and, most excitingly, Costume Bibles! These have the details of all the fabrics that were used in every costume, where they were purchased from etc., so that the whole outfit can be replicated from scratch if required.
However, the real treasure here for me, was that I was able to see a mask from the 1983 production of Aeschylus’ Oresteia. My Year 12 Classical Civilisation class watched a recording of it when we were studying the Agamemnon (the first play in the trilogy), and it was truly magical to see a real-life part of it. (and also to see how confined/tight to the face the mask would have been; it must have been rather claustrophobic to wear!) Sadly I didn’t have the foresight to take a photograph, but if you type ‘National Theatre Oresteia’ into Google Images you will get to see a whole range of them.
It was also really interesting, as a library trainee, to learn that Erin’s original qualification had been as a librarian, and thus to discuss whether the distinction was blurring between libraries and archives and if more possibilities were opening up to move between the two areas, or even have charge of both! Again, here is the link to the archive website.
The Globe Theatre Library/Archive
If March started with the National Theatre, it ended with the Globe, where Archives Assistant Miki Govedarica, and Librarian Jacqui Grainger, had set out tables of treasures for us (full details of the collections are here). There was a wonderful array of books, Costume Bibles, details about the construction of the Sam Wanamaker theatre, and photographs from Mark Rylance’s famous 2002 production of Twelfth Night with an all-male cast, as well as one of the costumes from it! However, my favourite part was a letter written to Mark Rylance by Eddie Redmayne, while he was still at Cambridge, explaining why (with great regret) he felt he couldn’t join the tour for Twelfth Night. This was such an emotional and ephemeral piece that it made me even keener than I already am to keep writing letters as well as e-mails: no-one is ever going to want to read an archive of e-mails, they don’t have nearly the same ‘real-ness’ to them as an actual letter that someone had to take the time to write and post.
Miki and Jacqui also let us slip in to the Tempest exhibition for half an hour, where I had excellent fun reading about Shakespearean pronunciation, and listening to recordings of monologues in the available booths (naturally I pressed everything that was read out by Sir Derek Jacobi!) There was also a beautiful collection of props from all different plays, and a display case about Mark Rylance’s production of the Tempest, which he took on tour with his theatre company Phoebus Cart and performed at sites associated with ley lines.
So, all in all, it has been a very theatrical month! I know that was a long post, but at least I did branch out into multimedia by adding a picture this time, so hopefully that broke it up a bit!